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VSA makes music beautiful

Kraig Sackmann, head of music at Victoria Shanghai Academy (VSA), began his teaching career in New York. It had always been his passion to work with students and he believed he was capable of more than just classroom teaching.

While in New York, Sackmann wrote a proposal to the VH-1 music station asking for money for inner-city students. VH-1 offered a US$100,000 grant to start a movement supporting the arts. Students were given scholarships to study privately with Eastman School of Music university students. With the success of the first proposal, Sackmann then wrote two more proposals – to create the first inner-city rowing team and a snowboarding team – to keep students academically focused and off the streets. All three programmes were huge successes.

In 2003, he moved to Thailand and started a school based on the Canadian curriculum. He taught general music and orchestra to students aged three to 10 and spent four years developing a new music department before moving to a British-curriculum school to develop a music department. Younger students followed the British curriculum while the older ones took the International Baccalaureate (IB). Two students became Young Thailand Musicians of the Year for their age group.

After eight years, he felt his children had to speak Putonghua to be competitive in the job market, so he began researching bilingual schools using Putonghua and English as media of instruction. “I found the VSA was advertising for a head of music position for primary, and applied,” he says.

Sackmann thinks that the move to Hong Kong was a great decision because he was given many chances to utilise his music talents. “I love the fact that I can produce a full musical with Year Five students with a pit orchestra of 55 students. I love the fact that students are ready to make beautiful music during class time, break time, lunchtime and after-school time,” he says.

“I also love how well the performance-arts department is supported by the school board, senior management, teachers, parents and students. I think the biggest challenge is writing a musical tailored to various students’ musical abilities. Another major challenge is arranging enough music to keep the students challenged. Our students are very talented.”

Sackmann says that one of the best things about teaching is that he knows that his teaching can affect a child’s path in life. “Teaching is not for the fainthearted. It requires hard work, passion, knowledge, skills, co-operation and absolutely no ego. If you want successful students, the teacher must be dedicated.”